This night is so full
- of light and colour and warmth,
- of poetry, story and song,
- of memories and comfort and hope.
Our hearts overflow!
Even if there were only a few of us, we would feel this, I think. But all the more when there are so many, when the world in miniature seems to be gathered together in a church like this.
‘When the fulness of time had come, God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive the adoption of sons’ (Gal 4:4-5).
Yes, it’s the fulness of time that comes upon us tonight.
We have heard Isaiah the prophet, David the Psalmist, Paul the Apostle, Luke the Evangelist. And as their words echo in us, it is this fulness, a sense of fulfilment, the fulness of time, we feel.
Mary’s time has come and she gives birth to a son, her first-born (cf. Lk 2:6-7).
Israel’s time has come, all those long years of expectation, and in Mary, the daughter of Sion, the whole of Israel brings the Messiah into the world, fulfilling her mission.
Our time has come, for ‘God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race’ (Tit 2:11).
The angels’ time has come, and they burst into song, ‘Glory to God in the highest’ (cf. Lk 2:13-14).
The earth’s time has come: ‘let the land and all it bears rejoice, all the trees of the wood shout for joy at the presence of the Lord, for he comes, he comes to rule the earth’ (Ps 96:12-13).
And most of all God’s time has come: ‘You are my Son, says God, it is I who have begotten you this day’ (cf. Entrance Antiphon). The one begotten before time, God from God, Light from light, is now born as a man from a woman, born in time: Son of God and son of Mary.
He it is who fills this night and shines in the dark and makes it all so bright.
Christianity isn’t a theory or an ideology; it’s the glory of God shining in a person, in this child.
‘For there is a child born for us, a son given to us… Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince of Peace’ (Is 9:6). ‘And here’, says the angel, ‘is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger’ (Lk 2:12).
How amazing this is! Everything is turned upside down.
‘There is fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity.
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover.
‘…unmeasured of plummet and rod,
Too deep for [our] sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God’ (G.K. Chesterton).
We can think of Christmas as sabotage or ambush. God has taken us by surprise. He has found the secret way into the Fort Knox of humanity, under the Iron Curtain of our hearts. He has undermined our pride. He has confounded all our pre-conceived ideas. He has turned himself inside out, as it were. He has taken the way of the child. He has become a baby. He has made himself helpless. He has made himself needy. How often we say the world needs God, we need God. How often we repeat St Augustine’s immortal words, ‘Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.’ And it’s true. But there’s something truer, something that now comes first. God has thrown himself on our mercy. He has chosen to need us. His heart is restless until it rests in ours. He has taken the way of the child. He asks for our love. He has put himself into our hands – hands that can even crucify him if we want them to (not in himself any more since he has risen from the dead, but in ourselves and in others). But we needn’t take that way. Not from tonight. The Creator of the universe has become a helpless child. The Redeemer has become one of us. He has become our companion on life’s path. He stretches out a child’s hand to us. It’s not a hand that hurts or takes away. It’s a hand that gives. (Cf. Benedict XVI). And if we take it, we too, like God, can be turned inside out. From tonight a whole new way of living opens up – the way of the children of God. God’s own restless love for poor, wonderful humanity can start to lay hold of us. From tonight we can begin to look at one another with the heart of God. We can stretch out our hands to one another, not to hurt or to grab, but to receive and to give. Now our pride and independence can fall away, our sins be put behind us and the way of humble love open before us. From tonight we can make our lives a gift to others after the pattern of Christ. We can become a people ‘with no other ambition but that of doing good’ (Tit 2:14). We can enter the fulness of time.
‘And here’, says the angel, ‘is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’
So let’s listen to the angel, let’s go with the shepherds, go to the child in the manger, and ask him to fill us and change us and give his gentle fulness to our lives. Amen.
Bishop Hugh, O. S. B.